The role of environment on health

We know that the environment plays a big role in people’s health and wellbeing – a healthy environment supports healthy people.

Climate change is a huge threat to human health. Air pollution and rising temperatures are linked to many health problems, from increased numbers of heart attacks and strokes to the faster spread of infectious diseases.

In Aotearoa New Zealand a healthy environment is also part of mana tāngata whenua – the rights of Māori. Linked to whakapapa, the natural environment is considered a taonga under article two of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Health New Zealand | Te Whatu Ora needs to take steps to protect it as part of our Tiriti obligations.

How we can respond to climate change

We have many opportunities to respond to climate change, protect the natural environment, and create better health outcomes. These include supporting whānau and communities to become climate resilient and supporting New Zealand’s international obligations under the Paris Agreement.  We are working to meet the requirements of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme (CNGP) and the Climate Change Response (Zero Carbon) Amendment Act 2019.

Because of its scale and large infrastructure assets the health sector can make a positive contribution to reducing Aotearoa’s carbon emissions.

We need to run our services in a more environmentally sustainable way, making improvements part of delivering pae ora – healthy futures for all New Zealanders.

Te Pae Tata climate change actions

Climate change is a priority in Te Pae Tata Interim New Zealand Health Plan 2022. The report identifies the following actions Health New Zealand needs to take:

  • Implement a climate sustainability and response plan across the health sector.
  • Outline emissions targets and performance indicators on national, regional and local levels. Build a database to track these targets, as well as the operational and embedded carbon emissions of the health sector.
  • With Iwi Māori and other stakeholders, co-design a framework for our approach to climate change, service resilience and environmental sustainability.
  • Design ways to reach a 25% reduction in category-1 emissions by 2025. This includes a fleet optimisation plan, transitioning boilers to lower emission options, and programmes for responsible disposal of waste gasses.
  • Develop a plan to reach a 25% reduction in category-2 emissions by 2025. These will include an energy efficiency programme and an LED lighting conversion programme.
  • Develop nationally consistent business travel policies to reduce flight-related emissions.
  • Include environmental outcomes and sustainability principles in all procurement contracts.

Our Environmental Sustainability and Climate Resilience Priorities

An interim work programme is underway to enable Health New Zealand to be an environmentally sustainable and climate resilient organisation. This will help us deliver our Te Pae Tata actions and meet the directions of the CNGP.

We have three focus areas:

Health System Decarbonisation

 Goal: To reduce health system carbon emissions in line with a 1.5-degree scenario.

Health New Zealand recognises we can make a big contribution CNGP, by setting and meeting targets in line with limiting temperature increase to 1.5 degrees.

We have estimated Health New Zealand emits the equivalent of 258,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year. Our interim work programme emphasises decarbonisation, which involves making significant changes right away.

The first step is to measure our emissions accurately, so different parts of the system can aim for the best reduction goals.

Environment in all Practices

Goal: Realise co-benefits that include the environment alongside health, equity, social and economic values.

Health New Zealand can create significant social value and tackle health inequities through meeting our climate goals.

Linking health, climate change, and sustainability will allow people and whānau to experience better physical and environmental health. This means we can see the health benefits of improving environmental sustainability and climate resilience.

We encourage our kaimahi to lead and create systems that address environmental sustainability, which have a positive effect on equity, society, and economic values. This includes ideas to reduce waste in the health system.

Health System Resilience and Adaptation

Goal: To safeguard our health system by planning for and adapting to the impacts of climate change.

Climate change touches everything. It creates a direct threat to health through extreme weather events and increased frequency of disease. Damage to communities and social disruption from storms and droughts affects our mental health. But it also gives us an opportunity to act and improve people’s health by improving the environment.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s new National Adaptation Plan (NAP) requires the health sector to assess our climate risk and help build adaptation implementation blueprints.

For the health sector to respond and prepare in the best way, mitigation and adaptation must happen at the same time. This will help safeguard our health system and create positive outcomes for everyone.

Seismic work programme

Health New Zealand is responsible for more than 1,200 hospital and healthcare buildings over 86 campuses nationwide.

The Seismic Work Programme was established to address the key recommendations in the Understanding and Improving the Seismic Resilience of Hospital Buildings (The Kestrel Report) –Health New Zealand | Te Whata Ora

Seismic Policy

We’ve established a Seismic Policy to allow for a consistent approach to the assessment of seismic performance of our health infrastructure, allowing for formulation of a strategy to identify where buildings have seismic vulnerabilities, so we can form a management strategy to prioritise and carry out mitigation works.


Download the Seismic Policy

More information

Public Health Sector Carbon Neutral Government Programme Updates

Gree, blue and purple logo with the words 'Proud member of the Sustainable Business Council - WBCSD Global Network Partner' Gree, blue and purple logo with the words 'Proud member of the Sustainable Business Council - WBCSD Global Network Partner'
A green panel displaying the words 'Proud member of' and the logo for Global Green and Healthy Hospitals A green panel displaying the words 'Proud member of' and the logo for Global Green and Healthy Hospitals